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Martin Pawley: radio times

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I am in the bowels of Broadcasting House, to promote my book Terminal Architecture by arguing with Rab Bennetts. We are sitting in a middle- kingdom Terry Farrell-style waiting area. The lady who has brought us here thoughtfully turns up the volume of New Radio Four as she leaves. After we have striven to chat over it for a while we turn it down. Then nothing happens for a long time until a person bursts out of a sound-proof room and leads us through a kind of torture chamber into a padded cell where two men wired for sound sit at opposite ends of a green baize table, covered with microphones. We too are invited to sit down at the table. While we serve ourselves with water in plastic cups the man with most microphones talks to people we cannot see.

Suddenly everything comes to life. The two wired-up men start arguing vigorously about a film that one of them has described as the funniest film he has ever seen in his life. The many-microphoned man summons another commentator by telephone. This man's disembodied voice says that it is not even the funniest film he has seen that week.

It is our turn next. The many-microphoned man places his hand on a copy of Terminal Architecture as though absorbing its contents through osmosis. He turns to me and asks: 'What is terminal architecture?' Unbelievably, I am not prepared for this question, but I hear myself saying that it is something that is oppressed by the art historical value system.

'Are architects really oppressed by art history?' He asks, doubtfully. 'Oh yes. It makes them believe that everything old is of incalculable value. It's paralysing innovation and progress, take Saint Paul's . . .'

'Rab Bennetts,' the man interjects, 'you are a real architect. Do you think architects are oppressed by art history? 'Well no actually. By and large things are getting better and better. Of course it was worse back in the 1980s . . . With Prince Charles . . .'

The man smiles benevolently at Rab and turns to me with a sceptical look. 'Why can't architects just go on giving their clients the high-quality buildings they are eager to pay for?' Gulp. 'Well, they don't give them as much as they could. They won't give them anonymity; they won't explore variable identity - even rotating advertising signs do that - they're scared of spatial distortion, urban disintegration and skyscrapers . . .'

'Can you think of a single building that has been ruined by art history?' Gulp. 'I can think of buildings that aren't: multi-storey car parks; petrol stations; police stations in Northern Ireland; warehouses; B-3 to B-6 offices; multiplex cinemas; telecommunications towers; war rooms . . .'

'Well there we are,' interjects the man again, 'terminal architecture. And now for the Eurovision Song Contest. Laszlo Catspaw. Will the Eurovision Song Contest go on forever?' 'Certainly it will go on for ever,' says a disembodied voice. 'Ludwig Grozny in the Ukraine, what do you think?' 'Nonsense. It certainly can't even last another year.'

That didn't take long,' says Rab, as we zoom down - no, up - in the lift.

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